Goomna guest race report

Despite the fact that it takes place less than a half hour from my house, I've never managed to do the Goomna adventure race in Highland, Illinois.  This year was going to be no different until I got a message from my friend Brian Friday morning: "Our female racer dropped out for the Goomna. Are you interested?" 

I'm always interested in adventure racing, and after a quick phone call to my husband I was in, with one caveat. See, Brian also did the Frozen Feet half marathon when I did, and thanks to the out and back nature of the course I had numerous opportunities to see just how much faster he is than I am...and that was when I was running more.  Not wanting to slow them down, I warned him how little I've been running and offered to be on standby if he couldn't find someone faster.

He declined my offer, and just like that I was a temporary member of Epic Machinery.  The 24 hours before race time left me plenty of time to vacillate between excitement about racing and anxiety over racing with a different team.  When you're a regular part of a team, there's a camaraderie built on shared experience and a comfort in knowing that your teammates have your back no matter what kind of day you're having.  Guest racing is a little like dating again after being married for a long time; you're not sure what to expect or what team dynamics are like. I'm pretty much a go-with-the-flow type of girl, though, and Brian assured me that they were just in it for a good time, which sounds an awful lot like my own team.

We met up at race HQ, the Korte Recreation Center, almost 2 hours before the race start.  That gave us plenty of time to check in, pick up our race shirts (nice, though a long-sleeved shirt is an interesting choice for a summer race), transfer the checkpoints from a master map, get our race stuff together, and strategize.

Brian marks the map while Al supervises
If you look at the map above, you might notice the four orange flags. Those mark the four checkpoints we were given.  The checkpoints could be found in any order, and once we'd completed those, we had to return to race HQ for more information.

Pre-race team pic: Al, me, Brian

Knowing that previous years' races had included some special challenges at checkpoints and assuming that the southern points would have these challenges and wanting to avoid a bottleneck at these, we opted to start with the northernmost checkpoint.  Because you could attack the course in any direction, the start line was pretty funny with some teams facing one way and some facing the opposite.

Getting ready to start

And they're off (in all directions)! Photo credit: Carrie Sona
We had one slight navigational bobble on our way to CP1 (the points had no numbers, so I'm assigning them one in order that we hit them) but quickly corrected and found the volunteers at a shelter at Silver Lake  park.  They told us to drop our bikes follow a 260* compass heading for .4 miles.  Easy, right? Shoot a bearing and go, so that's what we did.  Brian and I were wearing bike shoes, but with such a short run we opted not to change into our running shoes.

We shot off in hot pursuit of the Mich Ultra team who'd reached CP1 just ahead of us, but soon several teams were wandering around looking for our next CP.  You couldn't just follow the bearing straight ahead because it crossed a finger of the lake.  As we neared it, I realized, "Oh, I guess in retrospect we should have lined up the bearing on our map and plotted it so we knew our end destination, huh?"

No matter, we got there, and since Brian got there first he got to start doing the 60 team box jumps we had to complete before punching that CP.  You haven't lived until you've tried doing box jumps on a concrete box while wearing bike shoes, let me tell you.  Luckily Brian was a box-jumping machine, and Al and I provided a little supplemental assistance (and moral support).

From there we had to run back to CP1, where we were now directed to follow a new heading on our bikes. After the mile or so we'd just run in bike shoes, riding my bike felt pretty awesome.  Pulling into the next checkpoint, we were told our team had to catch a fish in order to punch cp3.  I've fished plenty, but I won't touch worms. Luckily my teammates and the volunteers took pity on me.

This is what playing the girl card looks like. Photo credit: Carrie Sona
Brian trying his luck...
I started off with the first fishing pole and quickly lost my bait to a fish and sent my line (and hook) flying through the air with my overeager yank.  Oops.  Thankfully, the awesome volunteer (this race had a ton of volunteers, and every single one of them was really positive and friendly) re-baited my hook, after which I found a spot where I was less likely to put out someone's eye.  In almost no time, I had a fish on my line.  Yes! I contributed!

We next had to run (more running...not the happiest news for a girl whose long run in the past two months is 3.5 miles) to a CP .6 miles due north.  This heading took us to the singletrack trails by the lake.  Once again we'd left our bike shoes on ("just .6 mi"), and no one thought to remove our helmets or hydration packs.  Recent rain had left the trails muddy in spots, but it was easier to just step through the mud than to try and avoid it.  The guys were clearly better runners than I was, slowing down so that I could keep up/catch up.  All we had to do to punch this fourth CP was to find the volunteer waiting down the trail, and then we turned around and ran back to where we'd left our bikes.

With all of the challenges at the Silver Lake area CPs completed, we rode off to the next mapped CP, at Highland Middle School.  From there we had to run (that word again) .3 miles to the hospital.  Still in bike shoes -- but having finally remembered to lose the packs and helmets -- we crossed the street and ran over to the hospital parking lot.  Even though it was a short run, it brought back memories of when I started training with faster people...I'd fall behind, the guys would slow down to a walk so I could catch up; I'd catch up and start to walk, they'd start running again.  It's a great way to build endurance.

Ah, yes....that could explain my poor running fitness.
In the hospital parking lot, we completed a relay of sorts.  While one teammate wheeled a weighted wheelchair a distance (100 feet? 200 feet?), the other two had to do burpees and a plank for the entire time.  I volunteered to drive the wheelchair, leaving Al to plank and Brian to do the burpees. It turns out that one high school wheelchair basketball experience 20 years ago was not sufficient practice to be wheelchair proficient.  It was hard keeping that thing going, especially because the parking lot had a gentle slope to it.

Once I got to the stopping point, the guys had to run up and then one teammate (me again) had to be carried on a spine board (at which point I'm sure they were both wondering why they hadn't picked up some tiny girl for their substitute).  Incidentally, being carried like that is a little scary.  Next we had to cross a balance beam while holding a length of pvc pipe with water sloshing around in it, and finally we had to unscramble a word.  The letters were written on soup and vegetable cans of varying sizes.  We made quick work of the puzzle (the word was REVERSE), and then we had to spell reverse upside down by stacking the cans.  

This was a bit harder, but we eventually got them to stay for a moment, and then we had to do the whole relay in reverse.  Back across the balance beam, back on the stretcher, and this time Al took a turn in the wheelchair while I planked (much easier!) and Brian burpeed.  When Al got to the end, Brian and I ran to join him, and then we all ran back to our bikes and rode towards our next mapped checkpoint, Merwin Park, where we were directed to run to Highland Primary school.

Having seen Mich Ultra heading back as we rode to the park, we had a pretty good idea of how far our next run was going to be, and this time we did change shoes.  I had to untie my shoes from my pack and was the last one ready, giving Brian an early lead in the race within a race.  Though this was our longest run so far ( ~1 mile each way), wearing running shoes instead of bike shoes felt like running on clouds. So much better! At the school, we were given the very unwelcome news that we had to do 45 chin-ups.  If it had been up to me and my noodle arms, we'd still be sitting there.  Instead, Brian knocked out a ton of them really fast, Al did most of the rest, and I struggled/jumped to do 4 of the saddest approximation of a chin-up ever.  You could barely even call them a scalp-up.

Chin-ups finished, we ran back to our bikes, where Brian got his shoes changed first again and went up 2-0 in our race, and then we rode to our last mapped checkpoint at Spindler Park.  There, while Brian got our passport marked, I hurried up and smashed him in the shoes-on-first competition.  We ran .7 miles to the Weinheimer athletic center, where we had to each shoot three free throws.  For each missed free throw, you had to jump up on the stage and do five push-ups and five sit-ups.

I was pretty stoked about this. I mean, I played 8 years of organized basketball; this is something I can do! My stoke lasted through about the first total miss. Basically, while Brian and Al knocked their free throws out in no time, mine took me forever.  It was a little humiliating: it's one thing to suck at things like box jumps or chin-ups that I never do; it's much worse to completely fail at something you used to be good at.  On the plus side, I got a lot of push-ups and sit-ups done.  I had one free throw done and kept missing on the others until Brian came up and did a little coaching: "Bend your knees and look at the back of the rim."  I sank the next two and we were FINALLY out of there, running back to our bikes and riding to race HQ.

Riding back to race HQ...with one quick stop.  Al ("You don't have a last name like 'Beers' without liking beer") had discovered through his pre-race research that Highland has a brewery, one which was conveniently located near our last checkpoint (a fact which may have factored into the way we opted to attack the course). Of course we had to stop!

Bike parking! How cute is this place?
The Railshake Brewery had a great patio), and as we parked our bikes and found a seat the waitress asked, "Is this a Goomna stop??" Unfortunately we couldn't convince her that free drinks were part of the race, but they were very understanding of the fact that we were on a tight schedule.  According to Brian's timer, our entire stop was 6 minutes...possibly our most efficient transition of the day!

"We don't always stop at bars, but when we do it's during a race."
Back at race HQ we had three new checkpoints to add to our map, making a 21-mile bike loop to finish out the race.  The nav wasn't complicated here, just a matter of grinding out the time on the chip and seal roads.  We saw Alpine Shop finishing up the course not long after we headed out and got a chance to cheer for them, and we were able to pass a few teams on the bike leg, which was a good feeling.

Since my running this year suffered at the hands of Dirty Kanza training, the bike leg should have been a piece of cake.  It wasn't great, but I just focused on trying to hang onto the guys' wheels.  About halfway through, Al started struggling a little.  The day was warming up quite a bit, and he had the opposite training issue from me: all running, no bike.  It was his turn to hang on like I had to during the running portions, and he did so while also handling the nav.  Pretty tough.

We had one team slip away from us, but we stayed ahead of all the others we'd passed and came into the finish in 4 hours 43 minutes for tenth place.  Without our 6 minute brewery checkpoint we'd have been in 8th place, but the memory of a beer stop during a race is totally worth a couple places in the standings.  Plus it's a way better reason than my slow running or inability to shoot free throws!

All in all, it was an awesome guest racing experience. Al and Brian were great, and Goomna was a lot of fun. It was definitely a lot different than the adventure races I'm used to, but it's good to try new things...and if I was in danger of getting cocky, now I have a whole list of areas where I need to improve.

Big thanks to the race director, the city of Highland, and especially the volunteers.  I think it was the most volunteers I've ever seen in a race, and every single one of them was friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. I would definitely go back and race again, especially with a year to work on upper body strength!


  1. Very entertaining Kate! But all that running and only one beer? Yeesh.

  2. This sounds like crazy nutbag fun.

  3. A beer stop during a race sounds like my kind of race :-). Nice job!

  4. Awesome. What fun to do a beer stop! I can't believe you don't touch worms. I mean I don't either so I am not criticizing buy you are Super Kate. Lots of fun things going on in this race!

  5. This sounds like a great adventure. AND you finished in daylight, which is always exciting :). I also love that it was close to your hometown. RAGBRAI passed by my hometown one year, and my sister and I decided to ride it. We had both moved away several years ago, but it was so cool to return as an adult and see it from this new lens.

  6. Well documented and awesome post! Your post made my heart racing as if I'm there! lol! In a race, It's just not about the physical training. You also need the mental toughness to go through all of the hardships. Good to know you we're focused. Your post made me itch to go on a race soon lol! You take care!


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